Bans, restrictions, and taxes on single-use plastics are coming into force across the globe. Whether action is being taken on a national or regional level, or even by individual businesses, the aim is to bring about a drastic reduction in plastic waste. In achieving this, it’s hoped that we can mitigate plastic pollution in our oceans and create more sustainable, greener economies.
Plastic straws have been singled out for bans as a result of the specific environmental problem they pose. Small, light, and non-biodegradable, plastic straws can easily be swept into the ocean and break down into microplastic particles. They can also be consumed by fish, seabirds, and marine mammals, causing them harm and – in the case of fish – entering the food chain for humans.
In this article, we provide a survey of the ban on plastic straws and other single-use plastics throughout the world. Additionally, we take a look at the biodegradable alternative to plastic straws that businesses can offer if they’re trading in a region where a plastic straws ban has been imposed.
The Plastic Straws Ban in Europe: The EU Single-Use Plastics Directive
The European Union has been taking action on plastic waste for some years now. For example, EU legislation regarding single-use plastic carrier bags in 2014 led to a significant reduction in consumer use of these bags and has been linked to a fall in the number of bags found in the ocean.
Building on this, in 2019 the EU Council adopted measures proposed by the European Commission designed to tackle the waste caused by further types of single-use plastics. The Single-Use Plastics Directive means that, by 2021, EU member states will be required to ban products like disposable plastic straws, plastic cotton buds, plastic stirrers, and single-use plastic cutlery and plates.
These products have been selected for the ban because they make up 70% of marine litter. However, the Directive also contains targets for managing other kinds of plastic waste. By 2029, 90% of plastic bottles should be collected for recycling, and by 2030 new plastic bottles should contain at least 30% recycled material.
In response to the Directive, individual EU member states are bringing in their own legislation: some simply seeking to comply with the minimum requirements and others aspiring to more ambitious waste-reduction targets of their own.
This year, 2020, France introduced a circular economy law which includes a ban on all single-use plastics by 2040 and a 100% plastic packaging recycling target for 2025. Meanwhile, certain regions of Spain, including the Balearic Islands and Navarra, had already banned some single-use plastics before the Directive came into force. A draft law contains plans for Spain to ban plastic straws from July 2021 and introduces a tax on plastic waste.
Italy has had a national ban on plastic cotton buds since 2019, as well as a ban on microplastics in rinse-off cosmetic products from this year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused Italy to postpone its planned tax on single-use plastic items (products made from recycled plastic or compostable bioplastics will be exempt), which will now come into force in 2021.
Other EU countries that have confirmed their intention to comply with the Directive from 2021 include Germany, the Netherlands, and Hungary.
Single-use Plastic Bans in the USA: Localised State and City Action
In the United States of America, individual states and cities on the country’s coast are early adopters of single-use plastic bans, perhaps because they see the impact of plastic waste on their beaches and in their local stretches of ocean.
Seattle, Washington, brought in a ban on plastic straws and utensils in July 2018, requiring businesses to use compostable alternatives and provide recycling facilities. Washington DC followed their lead and banned plastic straws in January 2019. Other cities that have instigated a plastic straws ban include Miami Beach in Florida and Malibu in California.
Bans or taxes on single-use plastic carrier bags are also becoming more widespread in the US, although the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in some temporary relaxation of the rules. As of 2020, California, Oregon, New York State, and Vermont all have plastic bag bans in place. In Hawaii, four county-wide plastic bag restriction rules have resulted in what is essentially a state-wide ban.
The state of Maine has a ban on single-use polystyrene containers; however, their planned plastic bag ban has been delayed until January 2021 as a result of the pandemic. Vermont boasts what National Geographic calls “the most comprehensive plastics ban in the US”, prohibiting the use of single-use plastic carrier bags, plastic stirrers, and cups or food containers made from polystyrene. The ban doesn’t extend to plastic straws though.
Worldwide Action Against Plastic Waste
The EU Directive has inspired other countries to adopt similar targets for tackling single-use plastics. For example, both Canada and Guatemala have plans to ban at least some disposable plastic products from 2021.
In the UK, a ban on plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds was due to come into effect at the end of April 2020, but this has been delayed until October in response to the pandemic. The country is also bringing in a new tax on plastic packaging that contains less than 30% recycled material, from April 2022.
Countries that have already banned plastic straws and some other disposable plastic products in the last two years include Bali, Jamaica, Belize, and Taiwan. In fact, Taiwan wants to take this further and ban all single-use plastics by 2030.
How Can I Comply with the Plastic Straws Ban?
If you’re a business operating within a region with a plastic straws ban, you may be wondering if there is a way to comply with the legislation and still give your customers the option of a straw with their drink. Or perhaps your country or state does not restrict the use of plastic straws, but you’d still like to help reduce plastic waste and clean up the ocean.
Well, the good news is that environmentally friendly alternatives to disposable plastic straws are available. A high-quality paper straw offers the same enjoyable drinking experience as a plastic straw while being completely biodegradable. That means that once the straw is disposed of it will simply disintegrate into organic matter that can safely return to the natural environment.
As plastic straw bans and restrictions on other types of single-use plastic packaging come into force in more and more countries across the world, let’s aim for a sustainable approach to food and drinks packaging as the new normal – for a greener, cleaner planet.
Photo by Calvin Hanson on Unsplash